Darkness and light, new love and death inform Mary Gauthier’s songs from the heart at The Crescent gig tonight

“There are bridges that only music can cross,” says American folk songwriter Mary Gauthier. Picture: Alexa Kinigopoulos

AS November’s nights close in on winter’s chill, New Orleans folk singer, songwriter and author Mary Gauthier arrives in York tonight to showcase her new album, Dark Enough To See The Stars.

Released by the 60-year-old Grammy nominee on Thirty Tigers in June, her ninth studio set of truth-telling songs finds Mary mourning the loss of dear musician friends John Prine, Nanci Griffith and David Olney on How Could You Be Gone and ’Til I See You Again, while offering optimism in her celebration of the joy of new love and personal contentment.

The title track, co-written with Beth Nielsen Chapman, acknowledges how loss and darkness can bring a beautiful sense of clarity and an understanding of what truly matters. “I got that line [‘But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars”] from Martin Luther King’s I’ve Been To The Mountaintop speech,” says Mary.

“He was teaching us that through pain and suffering we grow, and there are important things to gain from struggle, where sometimes it is the darkness that brings the light. It’s a beautiful metaphor”.

The combination of Covid’s grip and the loss of friends has been a time of “madness” for Mary, one that had led to her outpourings in song. “I tend to write about what it is I’m going through and what I think the world is going through, and I do that in a personal way, but that could be quite boring and narcissistic,” she says.

“The answer is to go deeper, and by doing that you strike a universal chord. I have to go underneath the surface to find a thread that links us all. I’ve learned over the writing of this record that The Beatles were right: love is all you need. Love is all there is.

“That love matters is what I cling to, especially in times of grief, and it all started with the death of my friends John Prine and David Olney, who was one of the geniuses of Nashville and had a heart attack on stage.”

Mary continues: There’s been a lot of grief, and what I’ve been made aware of is that people who I loved and loved me were really intensely loved and loved intensely in my life and I get to keep that love. It raises the stakes when you’re aware of how transient life is.

The artwork for Mary Gauthier’s 2022 album, Dark Enough To See The Stars

“Since the age of AIDS, I’ve been so aware of death, especially when it hits young people. In my 20s, working in a gay club, that [AIDS] was my first pandemic, so those feelings are not new to me. Losing all those beautiful young men; now it’s a feeling compounded by age.

“I have lost so many friends. It makes the relationships that remain alive so much more important, always ending messages with love. Relationships and love really matter, especially in times of grief and loss, and at times of such [political] division like now. I have family members that see American politics the other way, and I love them, so we don’t talk about it because we’d end up mad with each other.”

Beliefs lead to divisions, says Mary. “But I’m not trying to change the mind of anyone. That’s not my job. I’m a songwriter, and my job is to work withing the realms of the heart, to connect with the heart.

“Sympathy is to have feelings, but empathy is a very complex form of love; empathy is walking in someone else’s shoe, becoming the other in a song, putting yourself in the body of a female or a soldier, for example. It’s a very powerful medium that bypasses reason because it’s about the heart; it’s a feeling in your body,” she elaborates.

Dark Enough To See The Stare follows Rifles & Rosary Beads, Mary’s award-garlanded 2018 album co-written with U.S. veterans and their families that served to help them cope with the trauma experienced both abroad and at home.

Three years later came her first book, Saved By A Song: The Art and Healing Power of Songwriting, a memoir wherein she shared her life experiences from addiction, abandonment and loss to compassion, empathy, kindness and ultimately triumph, subsequently named in Rolling Stone magazine’s Best Music Books of 2021.

“The way I think songwriting works is that songs can make people feel something and that creates empathy, and through that the heart can have a conversation with the mind,” she says. “There are bridges that only music can cross.” 

Mary Gauthier, The Crescent, York, tonight (23/11/2022), 7.30pm. Seated show with all seating unreserved. Support act Jaimee Harris will then perform with Gauthier. Box office: thecrescentyork.seetickets.com/event/mary-gauthier/the-crescent/2378227 or on the door.

Looking for More Things To Do in York and beyond? Success will be found inside this story. Hutch’s List No. 106, from The Press

What is success, ponders Sara Pascoe, comedian, presenter, actress, writer and mum, at York Barbican

A COMEDIAN’S quest, a musical Nativity, winter storytelling, open studios, folk luminaries and supreme songwriters put a spring in Charles Hutchinson’s step as the season for scarves arrives

Comedy gig of the week: Sara Pascoe: Success Story, York Barbican, Thursday, 7.30pm

EXPECT “name-dropping, personal stories and anecdotes” from comedian Sara Pascoe, who will be mulling over status, celebrities, her new fancy lifestyle versus infertility, her multiple therapists and career failures in Success Story.

“What I want to explore is how do we define success and when do we define it,” she says. “Does it change with age? Do we only want things we can’t have? When we attain our goals, do we move the goal posts and become unsatisfied with what we’ve got and want something else instead?” Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Mayhem incoming: Pick Me Up Theatre’s cast for Nativity The Musical

Christmas musical of the week: Pick Me Up Theatre in Nativity! The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, November 24 to 26, 29 and 30, December 2, 7.30pm; November 26, 2.30pm; November 27, 3pm; December 1, 2pm, 7pm; December 3, 12pm, 4pm

ROBERT Readman directs York company Pick Me Up Theatre in Debbie Isitt and Nicky Ager’s humorous musical, built around St Bernadette’s School’s calamitous attempt to mountain a musical Nativity play.

Unfortunately, teacher Mr Maddens has promised that a Hollywood producer will attend the show to turn it into a film. 

Join him, his crazy teaching assistant Mr Poppy and the unruly children as they struggle to make everyone’s Christmas wish come true to the songsheet of Sparkle And Shine, Nazareth, One Night One Moment, She’s The Brightest Star and a heap of new Yuletide songs. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickts.com/york.

Ye Wretched Strangers Storybook: Tales from North America and Britain at York Mansion House

Promenade theatre event of the week: Ye Wretched Strangers Storybook, York Mansion House,  St Helen’s Square, York, tonight, 7.30pm

YE Company of Wretched Strangers, a transatlantic community theatre troupe of performers and storytellers from Yorkshire and Wisconsin, present sometimes comic, sometimes serious, always intimate and often poignant tales from Britain and North America, spanning 1799 to 1942, in the refurbished home to the Lord Mayor of York.

Laughter, smiles and a tear or two will be elicited by A Christmas Eve Ghost Story, the Creation Myth of the Ojibwe Tribe of Native Americans, A York World War Two Tale and other stories of ordinary people often forgotten by history on both sides of the Atlantic. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/show/ye-wretched-strangers-storybook/

Wizard, photographic collage, by Claire Morris, on show at the Winter Artists Open House

Christmas shopportunity of the week: Winter Artists Open House, South Bank, York, today, 11am to 4pm

FIVE York artists are opening studios today in South Bank with an eye to the Christmas market. At Kay Dower’s Corner Gallery, at 2 Telford Terrace, her acrylic paintings and prints of corners of York, the Yorkshire coast and quirky still-life objects will be complemented by photographic collages by Claire Morris, inspired by vintage books.

Kate Buckley’s “origami meets porcelain” sculptural ceramics and Marie Murphy’s modern, geometric paintings, prints and illustrations of urban landscapes can be found at 31 Wentworth Road. Mixed-media artist Jill Tattersall’s vivid, dreamlike artworks in paints, inks and dyes on handmade paper await at the Wolf At The Door studio, 15 Cygnet Street.

Saxon: Seize a ticket for their Seize The Day date at York Barbican

Heavy metal gig of the week: Saxon, Seize The Day World Tour, Hull City Hall, Tuesday; York Barbican, Wednesday, 7.30pm

BARNSLEY heavy metal veterans Saxon bring their 23rd studio album, February’s Carpe Diem, to stage life, led as ever by Biff Byford. “Can’t wait to get out on a real tour again, it’s gonna be monumental!” he says. “See you all out there. Seize the day!” Special guests will be Diamond Head. Box office: Hull, hulltheatres.co.uk;  York, yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Jane Weaver: Purveyor of an eco-friendly hum and pop for post-new-normal times

Songwriters of the week: Mary Gauthier & Jaimee Harris, Wednesday; Jane Weaver & Jake Mehew, Thursday, both at The Crescent, York, 7.30pm

NEW Orleans roots singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier is backing up June’s release of Dark Enough To See The Stars with a rare UK tour this month. The album mourns the loss of dear friends John Prine, Nanci Griffith and David Olney, but the optimistic side to Gauthier bursts through songs of new love and personal contentment.

Her seated show is followed the next night by Jane Weaver’s standing gig. An unshakable leading light of Britain’s experimental pop music landscape, this Manchester musician released her latest album, Flock, last year with its eco-friendly hum and pop for post-new-normal times. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.

Oysterband: Bound for Pocklington Arts Centre

Rare sighting of the week: Oysterband, Pocklington Arts Centre, Thursday, 8pm

OYSTERBAND play Pocklington as the only northern gig in their 2022 autumn diary. Formed in Canterbury in 1976, the veteran six-piece still perform with the spirit a punk ceilidh band but with depth and sensitivity to their songwriting, coupled with the strength of John Jones’s voice.

Songs from the five-time BBC Folk Award winners’ March album, Read The Sky, are sure to feature. Box office: 01759 301547 or pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Bellowhead: Reuniting for first tour in six years

Folk event of the year: Bellowhead’s Broadside Tenth Anniversary Tour, Harrogate Convention Centre, Friday, doors 7pm for 8pm start

FOLK big band Bellowhead are reuniting for a “special one-off” tenth anniversary tour of their fourth album, 2012’s Broadside, their first Top 20 entry in the UK Official Album Charts, fuelled by such favourites as Roll The Woodpile Down and 10,000 Miles Away.

Support comes from Stroud fiddler Sam Sweeney, who served in Bellowhead from 2008 to their last tour in 2016 and is now back on the front line alongside Jon Boden and John Spiers. Tickets update: Sold out; for returns only, contact 01423 502116 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk.